Home / Legacy /

Book Review Roundup I

 

I am pleased to inaugurate a new column here on Torah Musings where we will be reviewing a number of new books.

Reviews by Rabbi Ari Enkin

The Legacy: Teachings for Life from the Great Lithuanian Rabbis

By Rabbis Berel Wein & Warren Goldstein

Maggid (Koren) / 215 pp

The Legacy: Teachings For Life from the Great Lithuanian Rabbis is a handbook on what it means to live a life of derech eretz through the lens of the Lithuanian giants such as: Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the Netziv, the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, the Alter of Kelm, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz and many more. It is full of anecdotes and vignettes from the life of these great sages as well as from the Talmud and Chazal that really “drive home” the message on how to live as a Jew; both on the individual level as well as the communal one. Key middot such as: tolerance, honesty, integrity, humility, and peace are discussed and dissected. There is one common denominator throughout the book: Menschlechkeit.

The book opens with a chapter on how the great sages of Lithuanian were all men of tolerance and peace – even with those whom they philosophically opposed. Whether it was the Zionists, Marxists, mussarists and what not — all disagreements were handled in a dignified manner. I’d wager that Rabbi Wein, the author of this first chapter, intended for some veiled criticism for those who claim to be the successors of these people yet have become intolerant, if not ruthless, towards those who disagree with their ways. I would suggest that Rabbi Warren Goldstein does something similar in his chapter on Eirlichkeit with today’s obsession with external sign of piety and frumkeit.

Every chapter reads like a motivational self-help guide in becoming a better person making The Legacy a heartwarming and moving modern-day mussar sefer. Readers will explore what proper yashrut, hakarat hatov, honesty, yuhara, Kiddush Hashem, and even appearance and hygiene are all about. The pitfalls of chumrot and their possible negative effects on others is also a topic that readers will be made to reckon with,

Especially welcome is the historical review of the Mussar and Yeshiva movements such as the founding of yeshivot such as Telz, Slobodka, Radin, Beth Medrash Gavoha and more. Included in the historical review is some of the criticism that was leveled against the original Litvishe yeshivot. One of these criticisms were “yeshivas encouraged intellectual prowess over piety of behavior and prayer; they were therefore over elitist and bred arrogance and hubris in their students” – an issue I wish I had the time and space to elaborate upon.

The Legacy is gentle, moving, and authoritative. A wonderful book that is full of information, ethics, and wisdom.

———

Living the Halachic Process Vol. II

Kollel Eretz Hemdah / 381 pp.

Edited by: Rabbi Daniel Mann

Living the Halachic Process Vol. II, like the first volume, is a collection of halachic questions that have been posed to the rabbinic staff of Kollel Eretz Hemdah from rabbis and layman alike from all over the world. The book presents well over 100 of such contemporary halachic issues, many of which are especially exciting and relevant. There are many ambiguous and lesser-known halachic issues that are just not dealt with anywhere else, particularly not in the English language, to which guidance, advice and psak are rendered. To give but a few examples, there are questions on Tefilla, Shabbat, Holidays, Kashrut, Tzedaka, Monetary law, the mentally challenged, and much much more.

Some of the halachic rulings include: The kaddish following the kriat hatorah should be recited by the ba’al koray though there is justification for the widespread custom of delegating it to a mourner, it is unclear how often hikers should recite a blessing on their water/beverages, one may not violate Torah prohibitions on Shabbat to save an animal, cholent bags are o.k., one can give a gift on Shabbat by ensuring compliance with a few simple procedures, it is permitted to use Hashem’s name when singing zemirot,  those allergic to matza may not have to eat any, stringency is advised in fish/meat combinations, non-Jews may deliver your mishlo’ach manot, there is no heter to use a utensil “just once” before tevila, think twice before getting a dog, no need for a ritual washing when leaving the bathroom, avoid jewelry and clothing that contain pesukim, children should not administer injections on their parents lest they violate the prohibition against wounding a parent, the clothes of a deceased is ok – avoid their shoes, though.

Unfortunately, very few opinions and ma’arei mekomot are provided which might leave the seasoned halachicst unsatisfied. Indeed, the presentation style is quite informal and introductory in nature which leads one to believe that the primarily intended audience are ba’alei teshuva and those with a weaker background in learning and observance. Nevertheless, this sefer is unique and stands apart from the normative and predictable English halacha sefarim that are common today. Even the more advanced reader will enjoy the issues and discussions contained in this sefer.

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (5 Vol.) and the General Editor and Halacha columnist at Torahmusings.com. He welcomes books for review on the Torah Musings website. [email protected]

 
 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

43 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    Included in the historical review is some of the criticism that was leveled against the original Litvishe yeshivot. One of these criticisms were “yeshivas encouraged intellectual prowess over piety of behavior and prayer; they were therefore over elitist and bred arrogance and hubris in their students” – an issue I wish I had the time and space to elaborate upon
    =====================================
    does it say who leveled it? any responses?
    KT

  2. aenkin says:

    ….Yup. Its all there.
    Ari Enkin

  3. Joseph Kaplan says:

    “The book opens with a chapter on how the great sages of Lithuanian were all men of tolerance and peace – even with those whom they philosophically opposed. Whether it was the Zionists, Marxists, mussarists and what not — all disagreements were handled in a dignified manner.”

    Sounds like hagiography to me.

  4. efrex says:

    Joseph Kaplan on January 29, 2013 at 7:04 am

    “The book opens with a chapter on how the great sages of Lithuanian were all men of tolerance and peace – even with those whom they philosophically opposed. Whether it was the Zionists, Marxists, mussarists and what not — all disagreements were handled in a dignified manner.”

    Sounds like hagiography to me.

    True. But this is not a history book; it’s a book of inspiration, which is what R’ Wein does best. One only has to look at R’ Wasserman’s comments on Zionists to put the lie to the “all disagreements were handled in a dignified manner” claim, but there is quite a bit of truth to the statement that mutual respect was much more prevalent as a whole then than now.

  5. Nachum says:

    A lot of those great sages were Zionists and Maskilim themselves.

  6. aenkin says:

    Joseph-

    One thing it is NOT — it is not another Artscrolll Gedolim Biography.

    Ari Enkin

  7. Joseph Kaplan says:

    R’ Ari

    Does it contain ANYTHING that is negative about the great sages of Lithuania?

  8. aenkin says:

    Joseph-

    No. But it is not a biography. It is their inspirational teachings and deeds.

    Ari Enkin

  9. Joseph Kaplan says:

    R’ Ari,

    But why can’t inspiration be honest? Why the need to say “all men of tolerance and peace – even with those whom they philosophically opposed” and “all disagreements were handled in a dignified manner” when we know that “all” is, at the very least, an exaggeration?

  10. IH says:

    I have little interest in such books, but irrespective of whether “But this is not a history book; it’s a book of inspiration” and “But it is not a biography. It is their inspirational teachings and deeds” one can be sure that it will be quoted as both history and biography because it was written by ~”the renowned historian R. Berel Wein”~ and we’ve seen this blog discussion unfold a million times :-)

  11. shmuel 2 says:

    Joseph
    Stmpfers history of Lithuanian Yeshivos is probably more up your alley

  12. chaim says:

    Unfortunately, very few opinions and ma’arei mekomot are provided which might leave the seasoned halachicst unsatisfied

    R Ari- as opposed to your posts?

  13. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    actually, r ari gives plenty of citations. this article is not condusive to citations.

    nevertheless, the litvish yeshivot definitely admitted political zionists, maskillim, communists, (european) nationalists, chassidim (at least some; prob chassidic tendencies were more hidden), etc to their ranks. adnmission was basically a farher, and i assume a pretty weak one at that. letter of recommendation from the local rav was more important. (my source — discussion with the other gil, r dr gil perl)

  14. Shlomo says:

    Whether it was the Zionists, Marxists, mussarists and what not — all disagreements were handled in a dignified manner.”

    Sounds like hagiography to me.

    I could go for that sort of hagiography. Better than “he was so holy that he never read newspapers” or “he so disliked Christianity that he would become severely disturbed upon seeing a window in which the muntins* made a cross shape.” Both of which I have seen before.

    *The cross bars that separate panes in a window. Bet you didn’t know that word. Neither did I :)

  15. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    shlomo — http://www.nytimes.com/1998/11/29/realestate/postings-going-up-in-borough-park-56-room-hotel-for-brooklyn.html discusses the windows. i believe it was discussed here at hirhurim when it opened, without the term “muntins”. since neither the nyt nor hirhurim discusses that term, it does not exist. nevertheless, where did you get that subject from, altogether?

    2. no heter for “just once” utensils without tvilah — close up kashrut in america (and the rest of the world) without this. and dont drink any wine, for starters.

  16. Mark says:

    “The book opens with a chapter on how the great sages of Lithuanian were all men of tolerance and peace – even with those whom they philosophically opposed.”

    If that’s the case, I’ll say “no thanks” because that’s an utter falsehood. Some may have adopted that approach, but many others pointedly did not. Rav Yosef Leib Bloch zt”l gave a hesped for Herzl that can hardly be called tolerant or respectful. Many others did likewise when dealing with the maskilim, who were no paragons of tolerance themselves.

  17. Hoffa Araujo says:

    “Joseph Kaplan on January 29, 2013 at 9:23 am

    R’ Ari

    Does it contain ANYTHING that is negative about the great sages of Lithuania?”

    Dirt, we want dirt! The more the better, the more real, the more its a biography! Come on, bring on the dirt!

  18. ruvie says:

    “you want the truth – you can’t handle the truth.”
    revisionist r’ us.

    People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.
    Plato

    more dirt, please.

  19. Joseph Kaplan says:

    “Dirt, we want dirt! The more the better, the more real, the more its a biography! Come on, bring on the dirt!”

    How sad that you equate honesty with dirt.

  20. Nachum says:

    “he was so holy that he never read newspapers”

    There was a just a shiur in Kollel Yom Rishon in which the speaker tried to “explain away” the Mekor Baruch and provided a rationale for banning My Uncle the Netziv. This is YU.

  21. joel rich says:

    r’nachum,
    is it on yutorah?
    KT

  22. Nachum says:

    Yes it is.

  23. Yitzchak says:

    In the second book review you state: “Unfortunately, very few opinions and ma’arei mekomot are provided which might leave the seasoned halachicst unsatisfied. Indeed, the presentation style is quite informal and introductory in nature which leads one to believe that the primarily intended audience are ba’alei teshuva and those with a weaker background in learning and observance.”

    Does this take into account the lengthy pdf source sheets available here: http://www.eretzhemdah.org/content.asp?PageId=29&lang=en? There are separate files for the first and second volumes.

  24. Ari Enkin says:

    No. These source sheets – and the elaboration cited therein- are not part of the English text.

    But these are great!

  25. Nachum says:

    It’s funny that they write “complementary” when both it and “complimentary” would be correct.

  26. Ephy says:

    When will people learn that the intolerant ones are the loud ones. It is not to easy hear people be tolerant. Most Rabbi I’m around seem to be much more “tolerant” then you get the impression from loud ones.

  27. Hoffa Araujo says:

    “How sad that you equate honesty with dirt.”

    But you didn’t write “honesty”. That I agree should appear in a biography (as long as its within context). You wrote “ANYTHING that is negative”. The meaning is different because it may be that honesty will not find anything negative, but you assume that it does.

  28. Hoffa Araujo says:

    “you want the truth – you can’t handle the truth.”
    revisionist r’ us.”

    Uh, read his remark. He didn’t write “ANYTHING that is honest”. He wrote “ANYTHING that is negative” There is a difference. If that is what he meant, he should write what he meant.

  29. Steve Brizel says:

    I have my own share of reservations about hagiography, and was fascinated by MOAG. Yet, I have heard that none less than R A Nevenzahl, a talmid muvhak and chavrusa of RSZA for many years, reads the same for their inspirational value. I would certainly reccomend the volumes by R C Teller re RSZA and R NT Finkle Zicronam Livracha and the ArtScroll published bio of Rebbitzen Kanievsky Zicronam Livracha and a similarly styled volume re Nechama Leibowtz Zicronam Livracha for their inspirational value as well as their insights into the subjects of each volume.

  30. Joseph Kaplan says:

    I was speaking specifically about this comment: “how the great sages of Lithuanian were all men of tolerance and peace – even with those whom they philosophically opposed. Whether it was the Zionists, Marxists, mussarists and what not — all disagreements were handled in a dignified manner.” Honesty would demand that it be modified and non-hagiography would demand that if the topic was tolerance then non-tolerance by some of the great sages should also be discussed. I used the word “negative” in response to R’ Ari’s comment that it was not hagiography. One way to determine that is whether everything is all positive or if some negative matters are raised. That’s what I was probing in my comment.

  31. Joseph Kaplan says:

    Perhaps hagiography for inspirational reasons is okay. But let’s call a spade a spade.

  32. Steve Brizel says:

    One could find many books written about JFK and the so-called Camelot ethos that also deserve to be described as hagiography. Name one Kennedy family approved writer who has ever written about each of the Kennedys’ approaches to marital fidelity, or the lack thereof.

  33. Steve Brizel says:

    In any event, what is wrong with hagiographical works-at least for the necessary inspirational boost to keep one from becoming overwhelmed by cynicism?

  34. Nachum says:

    What’s wrong with them is that the seal of God is truth. Just because the Kennedys do something doesn’t mean we should- imagine that!

  35. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Was the Gaon of Vilna “tolerant” of the Hasidim? When there was a student rebellion in Slobodka, did the Alter handle the disagreement “in a dignided manner” or did he ruthlessly crush the rebbelion?

  36. Ari Enkin says:

    Good points Prof.Kaplan!

    I think you need to send an email to Rabbi Wein or Goldstein on that one!

    Ari Enkin

  37. Steve Brizel says:

    Larry Kaplan-the Gaon of Vilna and the Alter were fighting for what they perceived as the truth and the proper means of Avodas HaShem in response to what they viewed as threats to the same. Since when does a great military leader view either “tolerance” or “a dignified manner” as proper tactics in what he views as a war?

  38. Nachum says:

    All well and good, Steve. But you’ve just moved the goalposts. The claim was that they *were* tolerant and dignified; faced with proof they weren’t, instead of admitting your error, you immediately defend them, bizarrely, for not being tolerant and dignified.

    By the way, what do you think Hillel HaZaken was fighting for?

  39. Steve Brizel says:

    Nachum-good point-See the following from the posted review:

    “The book opens with a chapter on how the great sages of Lithuanian were all men of tolerance and peace – even with those whom they philosophically opposed. Whether it was the Zionists, Marxists, mussarists and what not — all disagreements were handled in a dignified manner.”

    I think that one can argue that the Gaon of Vilna and the Alter viewed Chasidus and Haskala as internal threats which required a harsher response than an external threat.

  40. Nachum says:

    The word “even” implies everyone, even internal.

  41. Nachum says:

    By the way, how is “haskala” internal and “zionism” external?

  42. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Nachum: So Steve moved the goalposts. What a surprise!

  43. Steve Brizel says:

    Larry Kaplan and Nachum-The Gaon viewed Chasidus as an impermissible means of Avodas HaShem. The Alter viewed anything that threatened the proper attitude of his talmidim in the same manner. As far as Haskala and Zionism are concerned, why would anyone be surprised at the various reactions in the Lithuanian Torah world to what was viewed as the intellectual and cultural hijacking of Lashon Kodesh , Tanach and the wonderful Mitzvah of Yishuv EY for a secular ideology and its state? Moreover, any serious student knows that there were various reactions ranging from the Netziv to the REW and in between. I don’t think that the virtue of 20/20 hindsight allows anyone to say that only their approach was correct.

 
 

Submit a Response

 

You must be logged in to submit a response.